A Rare Gift of New (To Me) Artwork

Greetings to all our visitors — I’ve been quiet in recent weeks because my wife has been under the weather and I’ve been running the household by myself (she’s much better now, thanks!). It was a challenge, even before the current circumstances fully took hold. We trust all our readers are acting responsibly and staying healthy. My wife had a far more pedestrian illness than the pandemic threat, but it was a fresh reminder that a sickbed is never a pleasant destination.

Shortly before my wife’s health took a downward turn, I became the custodian of a generous gift to LOAC. Here’s a look at it, and the backstory around it …

Readers of our Alex Toth and Milton Caniff books may recall the name Bill Chadbourne. “Chad” has been a longtime supporter of The Library of American Comics and his insights have improved the Genius series and Steve Canyon. While stationed in Japan he met the Rembrandt of the Comics Strips during the Caniffs’ first-ever tour of the Pacific in 1960. Later, in civilian life, he served the military in its publication office with the unwieldy title, Chief, Graphics & Design Branch, Press & Publications Division, American Forces Information Service, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. (“It’s easy to see why I called myself ‘Art Director,'” Chad once said). In this role he employed a number of civilian artists, including Alex Toth.

Several weeks ago Chad reached out to us to say he and his wife were thinking about downsizing and, “I have an original illustration from the Code of the U.S. Fighting Force. Our office in AFIS had well known illustrators address the six articles on how to act in combat … I rescued one of these originals, framed under glass, from the trash. They should have been sent to the archives but the [persons] in the office assigned to do so never did, and so I have had it since the [publication] office was disbanded.” He asked for an address so he could send it to us as a gift, and Dean suggested I should take possession of it, so I gave Chad my address.

It had been securely packaged, so the size of the box was somewhat deceiving, but only somewhat — the art and its frame was about twenty-six inches wide, twenty-nine high. And it looks like this…

This dandy piece sent me off to do a bit of research about the Code of the U.S. Fighting Force. The Code was developed in the wake of the Korean Conflict, when prisoners of war were subjected to physical and mental tortures experienced in no prior war. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Code on August 17, 1955. The Code focuses on six key points:

I ) I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

II)  I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.

III)  If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

IV)  If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.

V)  When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am bound to give only name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.

VI)  I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

The image Chad gave us focuses on the effort to evade capture (note the enemy soldiers scouring the field in the background). When I asked if he had any insight about the artist, Chad replied, “The piece was commissioned before I arrived [in the office] … It is by far the most exciting and explicit piece of the few that were done back in the late ’60s. The poster that  got the most play showed a bayonet piercing a torn piece of paper thrust through a barred window. (We were advised never to sign any propaganda if captured.)”

And learning that I had bought the Sickles Toko Ri art, Chad even had some information of offer related to the motion picture made from Michener’s story: “The movie, starring William Holden, had some actual Japanese locales and I was amused at the time to see the characters carousing in Shinbashi bars that my friends and I frequented (before I was married, of course!). The movie, if I remember correctly, showed how the bar used a miniature train track on an arc around the dance floor which acted as a delivery service of booze to the patrons. Only in Japan!”

Chad’s gift now hangs on the wall closest to my desk, and the Sickles pieces are displayed on one of the walls on my stairwell. I think of him every time I look at any of them, so once again, Thanks, Chad!

2 thoughts on “A Rare Gift of New (To Me) Artwork

  1. Bruce Canwell says:

    This is one of the extreme pleasures of this job — learning about new things, and seeing how Item A leads one down a path that brings one to Item B, Item C, and so on. The connection points between persons and events are often truly fascinating — I hope we convey that in our LOAC text features, too!

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